Friday Photo

Recently, the kids and I visited the Birmingham Museum of Art. In the 14th century room, we found several examples of Madonna and Child.

Each panel featured a bird in the baby’s hand. I was disappointed that the museum didn’t have any information that explained why the artists painted birds in the hand of the child.

Does anyone know why there is a bird in the hand?

10 Comments on “Friday Photo

  1. I tried to look it up and all I can find is that it’s traditional to have the Christ Child holding a bird in paintings and statues. A globe, a book, and grapes are other things he sometimes holds. A globe represents the world and grapes the eucharist, but the other two are not explained.


    • Thanks, Rebecca! That is so interesting. I was expecting maybe it had something to do with the Holy Spirit, but, since it wasn’t a dove, that didn’t really make sense.


  2. from wikipedia: Because of the thistle seeds it eats, in Christian symbolism the Goldfinch is associated with the Passion and Christ’s Crown of Thorns. The Goldfinch, appearing in pictures of the Madonna and the Christ Child, represents the foreknowledge Jesus and Mary had of the Crucifixion. Examples include the Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted (c. 1505-1506) by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael, in which John the Baptist offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future. In Barocci’s Holy Family a goldfinch is held in the hand of John the Baptist who holds it high out of reach of an interested cat. In Cima da Conegliano’s Madonna and Child, a goldfinch flutters in the hand of the Christ Child. It is also an emblem of endurance, fruitfulness, and persistence. Because it symbolizes the Passion, the goldfinch is considered a “saviour” bird and may be pictured with the common fly (which represents sin and disease).[6] The Goldfinch is also associated with Saint Jerome and appears in some of his depictions.[6]

    I didn’t think it looked like a goldfinch, but the Georiga Museum of Art site described a painting with a brown bird similarly “It is probably a goldfinch, which, according to legend, acquired the red spot on its head when it plucked a thorn from Christ’s brow on the road to Calvary and was stained by a drop of his blood.”


  3. That is so interesting. Thanks for the research, ladies! And the painting is gorgeous. I’ve been on a couple of field trips to the Birmingham Museum and enjoyed them, except for the driving in downtown part!


  4. You never know with artists although medieval artist tended to go with the norms of the time. I do know that a sparrow often has something to do with virginity (most-often in neo-classical art) so this may have something to due with His virgin birth though that would be a stretch.

    Did not know about the symbolism of the Goldfinch. Interesting stuff. I do think there is a red species.


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